The 100 Greatest Baseball Players Ever

So I’ve been working on this thing for a good while. I’ve been gathering your opinions through various polls, reading a bunch of different things, working any number of spreadsheets and questioning my friends. And finally, it’s ready.

Really dramatic music.

No, more dramatic than that.

The 100 Greatest Baseball Players Who Ever Lived.

(Echo. Echo. Echo.)

Yeah, just what we needed — another one of THESE stupid lists. Well, I never said I was adding anything useful here. I’ve read that every Bible analyst at some point wants to take a shot at figuring out The Book of Job, and every movie critic must at some point write their analysis of Citizen Kane, and every comedy writer has to break down the Woody Allen books. Well, at some point, every baseball writer should put together a Top 100.

There were three basic rules I went by.

1. Every player is eligible. So, pre-1900 players, Negro Leagues players, legendary talents who never made it to the Majors, Japanese players, everybody is eligible.

2. I rank the players entirely on their play on the field (and whatever other subtle and helpful baseball qualities I could glean out of their careers). We can argue about the various ways players have cheated through the years, and I’m not condoning that cheating. While I tend to be quite a bit less bothered than many by steroid use before testing began, I”m probably more troubled than many by Shoeless Joe Jackson’s role in the throwing of the 1919 World Series. In both cases, I try to keep all of that out of the rankings.

3. I rank the players using my own judgments — it wouldn’t be fun any other way. So, I judge for myself how much Ted Williams and Bob Feller and others lost because of World War II. I judge for myself how the short brilliance of Sandy Koufax’s career compares with the long and steady excellence of Warren Spahn or the mysteries of Satchel Paige’s often hidden brilliance might compare with Randy Johnson who was on display every time out. It’s fun. It’s guaranteed that you will not agree all the time or most of the time or perhaps even some of the time.

One other cool thing about the Top 100 — there are numerous players on this year’s Hall of Fame Ballot on the list. So in many ways, this was a good exercise leading into the Hall of Fame voting.

Well, as Marty DeBergi says, enough of my yapping. The 100 greatest baseball players ever coming at you all month long. Let’s start the arguments with No. 100.

14 thoughts on “The 100 Greatest Baseball Players Ever

    1. ceolaf

      Joe wouldn’t do that. He might do one REALLY long post, long promised but never posted.

      But not 100 separate posts. Definitely not.

      I could see about 92 different posts, with a few never quite being interesting enough or polished enough to make it up. That could happen.

      So, what is the over-under on how many posts this will take?

      Reply
  1. mgowdy

    One curioulsly long post, or 100….I don’t care. I love looking at lists like this and delight in the agruments it will create. I’m ready for whatever you have to offer, Joe!

    Reply
  2. AlbaNate

    I’m troubled by Shoeless Joe’s role in the throwing of the 1919 World Series, but I’m more bothered that Charles Comiskey–who I believe was more responsible for what happened than he is typically blamed for–is in the Hall of Fame. The Cicotte benching incident alone should have been enough to keep Comiskey out of the Hall.

    Reply
  3. Richard Aronson

    Barring a working time machine plus a mind reading device, we’ll never know what really happened with Shoeless Joe Jackson. Some facts are not in dispute: he was at best extremely poorly educated, at worst rather stupid. He was an illiterate son of a sharecropper who then moved to a factory town, and Joe started work at age six. He married a fifteen year old girl in 1908 when he was 21. Newspaper reports tarred and feathered him based on confessions that were not recorded by the Grand Jury stenographer, or were lost. He was accused of muffing lots of triples in helping throw the series, but a search of the box scores shows there were no triples hit to left field. In the 1917 World Series, which he supposedly was trying hard, he had an OPS of .638, but in the 1919 World Series, which he supposedly was trying to throw, he had an OPS of .956 with more than twice as many total bases and six RBI. And the jury acquitted him (all of them, actually) so whatever evidence there was was pretty shaky.

    I think Jackson got a bum rap. I’m sorry, but a guy who hits that well, with power,isn’t trying to lose. I mean, steroids and all, ARod would love to have a World Series like that one, and while there is small sample error involved, nobody is so good that .,956 represents tanking it. Yes, he probably associated with cheats, but I’m not a fan of guilt by association, nor is the American legal system. All the other quotations and confessions have been demonstrated to be questionable at best in an era where sensational journalism sold papers. I also think a poor disadvantaged illiterate man deserved the benefit of the doubt. Call me a softy, but if I ever get to run baseball, the first thing I’d do is have some top flight investigators reopen the case of Shoeless Joe.

    As Wikipedia cites:

    Jackson spent most of the last 30 years of his life proclaiming his innocence, and evidence has surfaced which casts doubt on his involvement in the fix. Jackson reportedly refused the $5,000 bribe on two separate occasions—despite the fact that it would effectively double his salary—only to have teammate Lefty Williams toss the cash on the floor of his hotel room. Jackson then reportedly tried to tell White Sox owner Charles Comiskey about the fix, but Comiskey refused to meet with him.[21] Unable to afford legal counsel, Jackson was represented by team attorney Alfred Austrian—a clear conflict of interest. Before Jackson’s grand jury testimony, Austrian allegedly elicited Jackson’s admission of his supposed role in the fix by plying him with whiskey.[14] Austrian was also able to persuade the nearly illiterate Jackson to sign a waiver of immunity from prosecution.[21] Years later, the other seven players implicated in the scandal confirmed that Jackson was never at any of the meetings. Williams said that they only mentioned Jackson’s name to give their plot more credibility. Jackson’s performance during the series further suggests his innocence.[14] (the numbers in brackets are footnotes). So it seems possible to probable that not only was he not trying to lose, but he also tried to inform on the plot, and was instead swindled by having an attorney who was working for his enemy, Charles Comiskey. There seems little reason for the other seven to lie about Jackson’s innocence after the fact.

    It’s a lot easier for me to believe that Jackson was not trying to lose than that he was trying to lose.

    Reply
    1. Triston

      Ah, but not every game was thrown.
      In the games started by conspirators Cicotte and Williams, Jackson went 4 for 16, with one run, no RBI, no walks, two strikeouts, with a .250/.250/.375/.625 line. He went hitless in games 1 and 5, both thrown.
      In the “other” games, Jackson went 8 for 16, with 4 runs scored, a home run, 6 RBI and a walk, for a line of .500/.529/.750/1.279.
      Point is, he has very good “overall” stats in the series because he played FANTASTICALLY in games that weren’t thrown, and awful in the games that were.

      Reply
      1. boojum

        Well. There you have it. We have a new winner for the small sample size sweepstakes. One day I will read some comment, I suppose, wherein a player’s entire career, talent, and character is reduced to one game (or even, perhaps, one at-bat!). But until then you will be my personal gold standard. It is not difficult to think of many reasons why a given ballplayer would fail to come up with a hit on any given day, in fact some would have it that part of the charm of the game is that it IS difficult to hit a pitch well.

        Reply
        1. Chris DeRosa

          It was the first poster (Richard Aronson) who introduced a small sample as evidence of Jackson’s *innocence.* The second poster (Triston) merely pointed out that the Aronson’s sample (Jackson’s overall series record, the one that Jackson’s supporters have cited for decades) isn’t the period under scrutiny. The period under scrutiny is the games the White Sox are accused of throwing.

          Reply
          1. Triston

            Well, when trying to figure out if a player threw some games and not others in a mere eight-game series, you kind of “have” to use small sample sizes.

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